The Laredo Heat SC has a rematch with rival Midland at home in the Lone Star Conference semifinals on Wednesday after the teams battled to a 1-1 draw earlier this season.
The Laredo Heat SC is putting a dominant close to the regular season in the rearview mirror as its focus shifts entirely to the Lone Star Conference semifinals with the club hosting the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the TAMIU Soccer Complex.
“The regular season ended well, but to any team, once you are in the playoffs it doesn’t matter what you did before,” Laredo Heat SC midfielder and captain Erwin Regules said. “We have shown each other what we can do though, so the playoffs put us in a position to shine.”
The Heat (7-1-2) closed out the regular season with five straight wins and ended on a high note with their largest margin of victory and a season high in goals with a 5-0 win over the Temple Coyotes FC. It was the third clean sheet in the past four matches and the fourth overall, and it extended Laredo’s unbeaten streak to seven games with a 6-0-1 stretch.
During the unbeaten stretch, the Heat have not faced a single deficit. Not counting extra time, they were tied for 247 minutes and led the other 383 minutes in the past seven matches.
Coincidentally, the lone blemish in that stretch was a 1-1 draw at Midland (5-2-3) on June 17. Laredo led for 42 minutes in the match and was tied for the other 48.
“There is a bad taste from that tie at their place,” Regules said. “We definitely want to make it different this time, especially at home.”
The Heat generated scoring chances throughout the first half of the draw starting in the ninth minute when pressure from midfielder David Martinez created an interception from forward Nadav Datner at the top of the box. Datner’s shot went just to the right, but he made up for it four minutes later. Datner pressured the keeper and deflected his pass attempt over to forward Gabriel Gacovicaj who shot from 15 yards out into the lower right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
Several other scoring chances in the half were denied as Laredo took a 1-0 lead into the break. Midland scored the equalizer early in the second half as it got a corner kick in the 54th minute. Heat keeper Ross Dalton attempted to catch Cian Foley’s cross, but Kenan Ersoy beat him to it with a header to level the score. Keepers on both sides made key saves the rest of the way as the teams settled for one point each.
“We feel like it was a tale of two halves. In the first half we were truly dominant,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “We had a handful of chances, and we were only able to convert one. I think it would have been a different game if a second or third goes in. To credit them, that’s what good teams do. They had a good little spell in that second half, especially after their goal, where we were on the back foot. It is a really good opportunity to show a complete performance compared to about 65 minutes.”
The draw with the Heat was part of a pattern of close games for the Sockers. They rolled 5-0 on July 2 against Fort Worth, but they scored two or fewer goals in their other nine games. Following a 3-0-1 start to the season, they finished just 2-2-2 including a pair of 2-0 losses to the Irving FC and the Denton Diablos FC over the final three games. Midland finished just behind the Heat with 11 goals allowed and three clean sheets in the regular season.
“They are a strong team with a lot of good players,” Regules said. “There will definitely be a great intensity in the game.”
While the focus is entirely on battling to advance in the playoffs, Wednesday’s match will also serve as somewhat of a rubber match between the rivals. The Heat swept the series in 2018, and Midland returned the favor in 2019. With a draw in their first meeting this year, Wednesday’s result will break the tie.
“I think Midland is a great side. They have a really good history as a club and they are a rival,” Powell said. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to showcase what we have again. We know it is going to be a really difficult match. We are just focusing on ourselves.”
The Heat have plenty of positives to focus on including finishing the regular season with the top defense in the Lone Star Conference and tying for 10th in the National Premier Soccer League with an average of only one goal allowed per game. They also ranked second in the division scoring 2.7 goals per game, and that ties them for 16th in the league.
Leading the offensive charge is Datner who nearly outscored the competition with nine goals including his third brace of the year in the finale. Datner was named last week to the NPSL Team of the Month for June after he totaled four goals and three assists in six games. He was not the only player honored as defender Gabriel Claudio was named to the Football Manager Team of the Week after scoring the lone goal and making several defensive plays in a 1-0 shutout of the Katy 1895 FC.
Despite the accolades and the dominant run, Powell said the players have kept their focus on the task at hand and have prepared well for Midland.
“The guys were great this week,” Powell said. “We stayed on the same thing that has been working the past couple weeks. We worked them extremely hard then pulled off a little bit the day before the match. Everybody is fit, healthy and feeling good, so we are in a good place.”
Tickets for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. playoff opener are $5 for general admission and $20 for VIP access while children 12 and under get in free. Tickets are available now through laredoheatsc.com. Fans are encouraged to wear red and to bring food and drinks into the game because concessions are unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions.
If the Heat win, they will play again Saturday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Denton (8-1-1) and Katy (4-4-2). Laredo would either host Katy or travel to face Denton for the Lone Star Conference championship.
“Make no doubt, this game will be an extremely tough one,” Laredo Heat SC President Shashi Vaswani said. “If we win, we will most likely travel to Denton for a showdown with the Denton Diablos for the conference championship. If we win that game, we will host a team from Nevada or Arizona for the regional finals on July 24. Again, first thing is first, we have to win Wednesday! See you there.”